The Heart of Cheesemaking
Macie Loutherback spent her summer vacation getting a crash course in cheesemaking. The University of Idaho sophomore completed a 13-week internship with Agropur in Jerome, gaining valuable industry experience.
Loutherback attended the U of I Career Fair the fall semester of her freshman year at the encouragement of College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Senior Instructor Stacey Doumit. After researching the companies in attendance, Loutherback discovered that Agropur offered internships to freshmen. And her major in food science: fermentation science option was just what they were looking for in a potential intern.
“I walked up to them and said, ‘You’re the only company in this building that gives internships to freshmen, tell me more.’ Then I had an interview the next day and a job two weeks later,” she said. “I came from absolutely no experience, and spent 13 weeks in the industry, in the heart of cheesemaking.”
As a cheese production intern, Loutherback was able to experience the entire cheesemaking process, from inoculating with the starter bacteria to forming the final product. She spent time mixing starter and rennet with the milk, taking cheese samples and analyzing them in the lab for quality control, and everything in between.
“I really liked working on the belts or on the vats,” she said. “It’s essentially the heart of making cheese. It kept me busy and the science behind it was really cool.”
Discovering Food Science
Loutherback’s interest in food science began at a young age. She grew up helping her dad with his home brewing hobby and watching Good Eats, a television show that explores the origins of ingredients, decodes culinary customs, and presents food and equipment trends.
“I just became fascinated with food science,” she said.
In middle school she competed in the Science Olympiad dairy science event. In high school she joined FFA where she continued to compete in dairy science, qualifying for nationals.
“My curiosity really pushed me into food science,” she said. “There are always new things and something to learn. There are always things to experiment with and really, nothing is set in stone.”
Originally from Moses Lake, Washington, Loutherback chose U of I for her education because of the value and the friendly atmosphere.
“U of I is actually cheaper for me than going to Washington State University and I like the small community,” she said. “Even the 8 miles difference between the two schools, the atmosphere is completely different. Everyone here is so friendly, and it feels like home.”
Loutherback will return to Agropur’s Jerome facility for another internship in summer 2023. She will be working in the cheese technology department where she will learn more about the technical side of cheese and work on larger projects.
The crash course in cheesemaking opened her eyes to what it’s like to work in the industry, but for Loutherback, the biggest takeaway was having her initial expectations challenged to help her grow.
“I went in having certain expectations and the first week I was there, I was like, ‘Oh, it’s nothing I thought it would be,’” she said. “All of my favorite people I worked with were high school dropouts. All your expectations on what people need to be to have successful careers, just throw out the window. You learn really quick that good people and smart people come from all different backgrounds and levels of education.”
Article by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Photos provided by Macie Loutherback
Published in September 2022